You can say something is unfathomable only once and then it becomes fathomable. It is not unfathomable the second time your boyfriend gives you a black eye. The minute Russia shot off the first missile, the first bomb, rolled the first tank, the invasion was no longer unfathomable. Their bombing of a nuclear power plant last night was fathomable. Criminal, evil, but completely fathomable. Worse things will come, and we shouldn’t be surprised and amazed by them because they are things we wouldn’t do. Putin has no boundaries, no internal structure of moral obligation. He is deeply evil.
The early stories of Ukrainian pluck – the grandmother making Molotov cocktails – have been slowly replaced by the reality of mortally ill children taken from their hospital beds to be transported by train to Poland, their mothers curled on the floor next to them having no idea of what lay ahead for them. We loved seeing the Ukrainians in bomb shelters with their cats, the old men marching to the neighborhood defense unit to pick up their AR-15s, the masses of people standing down tanks. But now the suffering is pushing the pluck to the side. The attacks are indiscriminate, meant to harm, kill, maim. I would say it’s unfathomable except it isn’t.
President Biden and his people have engineered an enormous and complex global coalition to go after Putin and his evil plans, giving lie to narrative that he was too old and too out of touch to be a leader. As I age, my respect for age increases. I am not smarter than I have ever been, but I am wiser. In my small world of influence, I am less likely to act unilaterally, more likely to seek and appreciate counsel, more convinced of the power of informed and committed consensus. I’m not saying this explains Joe Biden, but I will venture a guess that everything he has learned and done over his many years has brought him to this extraordinary moment and we are lucky for that.
A lot of terrible things have happened to Americans over the years, but this has never happened to us. We have had a war on our land, yes, but we’ve never been invaded and bombed. We’ve never hidden in bomb shelters although those of us of a certain age practiced what to do in case of Russian bombing. (It was amazing that anyone thought our school desks would protect us.) So, because we have been protected from these things, we have to watch more, read more, be aware of our limited visceral knowledge, subject ourselves to the news. We owe the Ukrainians and the rest of the world that. No ‘stressing out’ and not watching the news. The price to pay for not spending the night in a bomb shelter is being informed and engaged in what is happening.
There will be good that comes out of this nightmare, but we may not see it for decades. One immediate good is that there seems to be a tiny shred of common cause among Republicans and Democrats. I want to believe – if only for thirty seconds – that to be an American means to believe in some level of basic decency. Can there be some situations, some level of evil and wrongdoing, that are not subject to interpretation, that we would all agree must be stopped? Would having children near death from cancer having to evacuate their hospital to go to another country possibly be the tragedy that could unite us? I don’t know but I hope.